CJ launches Filament Pictures with 'Slumber'

New distributor to handle low-budget, foreign films

BUSAN, South Korea -- CJ Entertainment, Korea’s largest film production and distribution company, has launched Filament Pictures, a second distribution line, starting with “Golden Slumber,” a CJ co-produced thriller from Japan, and China’s blockbuster earthquake film “Aftershock.”

“We will have three-to-five Korean low-budget titles with new and creative narratives beginning next year,” said Lee Hyejung, who’s in charge of Korean films for Filament, which will target films with budgets between 200 million won ($177,000) and 1 billion won ($884,000).

“We want to expand and develop the diversity of our audience and find and develop new directors, producers and talent. We need this market,” Lee said.

CJ, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary, is the same firm that in 1995 gave $300 million to Steven Spielberg to found DreamWorks 1.0. 

Seoul-based Filament, headed by CJ senior vp Lee Sang-yoon, formerly of the company’s strategy division, pulled three other CJ staffers into Filament, including Lee Mi-yon to focus on imports and Kang Eun-kyung in marketing. Filament also will look at low-budget genre films, Lee Hyejung, said.

Asked why Filament, with its low-budget focus, would release Feng Xiaogang’s big-budget “Aftershock” in its inaugural lineup, Lee said, “It may have been a blockbuster in China, but we will distribute it like a low-budget film here in Korea,” adding that that meant it would be released on Nov. 4 on “about 50 screens.”

In Korea, homegrown movies — including many from CJ, such as “The Man From Nowhere” (6 million admissions since Aug. 4) — dominate the box office in close competition with Hollywood blockbusters. It appears Filament is designed to bring a mix missing from Korean cinemas since the early 1990s, when films from Europe and Latin America screened regularly.

“The White Ribbon,” the Cannes Palme d’Or winner in 2009 never made it into Korea, for instance. “This is the sort of thing we want to do with Filament,” said one CJ executive who declined to be named for this article.

“It’s an encouraging sign that the major Korean film company is committing itself to more art house cinema,” said Paul Yi, a Los Angeles-based producer with ties to Korea and sales agent for “The President’s Last Bang,” Im Sang-soo’s 2005 Cannes Director’s Fortnight entry.

Filament was launched quietly at a midnight party on the sidelines of the Pusan festival, the largest annual gathering of Asian film professionals. CJ executives said they are wary of criticism that some of their party guests let leak to The Hollywood Reporter. Some guests worried that Filament was CJ’s attempt to squeeze the already struggling independent moviemaking community.

In a country where pay for below-the-line crew is modest at best, Tcha Sungjai, chairman of the Korean Film Producers Assn., said he was doubtful of CJ’s new label. “If CJ wants to succeed with a second line for low-budget films, it has to fix the independent film salary structure,” Tcha said. “I’m concerned that CJ’s structure will reduce the salary of the crew.”